by D.A. Andrews
Jonny Ra is running from gambling debt; finds his parent's new house is a bit strange.
| The sun was just setting over the mountains to the west. It cast yellows and oranges in a myriad of shades down into the valley that nestled a busy if small lake community. Even here, ten miles from the north shore of Bear Lake in Sydney, Idaho, there was a cool "lake" breeze that made the otherwise incessant heat bearable.
I flexed my arms and shoulders and twisted this way and that at the waist, trying in vain to get my back to pop. I was shirtless, my slimming torso exposed to the heat and the sun. I had been a bit pudgy while I lived in California. Ever since I quit my job and moved out to this little community in the backwoods of Idaho I had been consisently burning off the weight.
I'd come with my parents, who as they got older were getting tired of the constant rush of big city life. They'd grown up in this sleepy county that's only mode of growth was getting more and more visitors to the lake- a beautiful, shockingly blue expanse of crisp, clear water that stretched out mile after mile. I wasn't exactly honest in my reasons for wanting to come with them. I told them I wanted to live at a slower pace (which was a lie) and that I hated my job (which was true; I was a Maitenance Tech at a small appartment community) and that I thought they could use some help. The real reason had more to do with my gambling debts.
See, I enjoy gambling. Its not so much about winning big, or even losing big like Al Pacino says in "Two For the Money". For me it was just the rush. I liked to win. I LOVED to win. But it wasn't the same if it was chump change. I hit the No Limit Hold 'Em tables, and I hit them hard. A little too hard, in retrospect, hence my fifty thousand dollars of debt that I had no realistic way to pay off.
As much as I didn't want to admit it, though, I was glad I'd come. The work was hard, doing odd jobs for small town folk. Cutting fire wood, because a lot of the houses out here in Sydney that didn't have furnaces of any kind. Baling hay, mending fences, a lot of hard work. But it gives me a sense of satisfaction.
I was almost done for the day. I was at the Jensen's home, an elderly couple that managed to do quite well raising prize-winning horses. They even let me ride them now and then when I wasn't busy, and they were actually quite nice people. They didn't even look twice at me, even though I have a tendancy to wear a bandana and no shirt, thus revealing my tattoo's, when I work. Their house an old Victorian look with a heavily pitched roof and bay windows. The siding needed painted, but that just meant more work for me. The door was a canary yellow, and it stood out on a street of only ten houses. The front lawn was well manicured, thank you very much, and the fancy stone walkway that led around to the side of the house where the woodstack and equipment shed was also my handiwork. The Jensen's had provided me most of my work the first month or so.
I was just off the southwest corner of the house where an old tree stump served as my chopping block. Large piles of wood surrounded me, waiting to be neatly piled with the rest of their firewood. As I finished taking my little breather, two large semi's rumbled by. They shook the antique shudders that no longer had any practical use (Mrs. Jensen had demanded storm windows be installed last winter) and set one of their large labs to barking. It was pretty common, as the road that led up to the north and into town was Highway 36, a well-used truck road that connected Montpieler all the way to Pocadello and to Evanston in the other direction.
As I went back to work, Mr. Jensen came out from around back. He had probably just parked the tractor back in the garage- he did just that about the same time every day.
"Hey there, Jon. Look like you had a hard bit a work today," He called out, smiling congenially. His voice had the old rasp of someone who'd smoked for fifty or sixty years.
I smiled back. I liked the Jensen's. "Not too bad, Bill. Not too bad. Now, the Pope's on up the street, THEY work me like a dog."
"Well maybe I oughtta be given you more work, then." He was moved up to the front porch as we talked.
"Oh, no, I'm not complainin'."
"Ah, I know ye aren't. You're a good kid, Jon. Just keep your head outta the henhouse, and you'll be alllll-right," He had a way of drawling words at unexpected times, as was usual for Sydney. It cracked me up. It was like a weird twist on Genteel Southerners. "I think you done enough for one day. You can come back and finish tomorraw."
I just nodded my head in appreciation, swatting at a mosquito that had been trying to make a meal of my shoulder. It was getting later in the evening. There'd be a lot more of them soon. "If it works for you, it works for me."
Bill Jensen nodded slowly, taking in the spectacular sunset to the west. He took a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and opened the door. "I'll see ya tomorraw, then. You have a safe drive home, Jon."
"I will, Bill. Tell the Misses thanks for the lunch she made me."
He nodded, and I went to cleaning up. It only took a few minutes to get all the firewood gathered up, but stacking it all up gave me quite the workout. It would have even if I hadn't accidentally knocked a spider's nest out of place, sending the creepy crawlings scurrying in all directions- including one that tried to run right up my arm. When I had everything all set in place, I went to my truck. I threw the white tee-shirt I used for working in back on, instantly dampening it with sweat. I took the jacket off of the tailgate and threw it inside.
I bought the truck just for working in, figuring it'd be better than my little Eclipse for that sort of thing. It was an old Chevy, and I was lucky to get it for just five hundred bucks. Engine worked fine and there wasn't any rust which, with all the snow and the humid air from the lake, was a rare find in the valley. I took the axe I'd been using and placed it back in the shed, locked it, and got in my truck.
The seats were cloth and made my itch when I'd been working, but I was learning how to ignore it. I smiled at the vintage style gauges and dials even as I pulled back out of the Jensen's long driveway and headed for home.
When I got home I took a quick shower and used the bathroom before putting on a pair of shorts and a nice clean tee-shirt. I lived in Sydney, but I had promised to come by my parent's place over in Montpieler and have dinner. Plus my dad wanted some help hauling some salt into the basement. It was a pretty short drive, and one I loved to take at sunset. The sun sets in the valley for almost an hour, and the air at that time is vibrant. Its alive. It's a kind of envigorating smell that most people today never experience.
When I pulled into the driveway, nobody was home. It was odd, but it didn't bother me much. There was only one real super-market in the area, and it closed early. Being too late meant a forty five minute drive to Logan if it was important enough to be gone for an hour and a half. They often had to run on short notice if they noticed they needed something before tomorrow.
I parked my truck on the lawn to the left side of the driveway. That way we wouldn't have to play musical cars when I left. I went inside and greeted their dogs- small dogs for the area -and sat down on the couch. There was a book- Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons", sitting on one arm of the sofa, so I started to read the beginning. My dad was a physics major in college, before he dropped out, and he loves anything with off-the-wall science. I was beginning to get worried when I realized I'd been reading for over a half an hour and the phone rang. I went to check the caller ID, thinking it might be them calling to tell me what was going on.
It wasn't. Just somebody named 'Jake Menduzenka', which was a name I definitely didn't recognize. I took the phone back to the couch with me and laid down, going back to my reading. Then I fell asleep.
When I woke up it was after eleven. Or so the little green clock on the VCR stated proudly. I got up and rubbed my eyes, really beginning to worry. The lights were all still on, and my mom certainly would have turned them off if they had come home and decided to let me sleep. It wasn't uncommon for me to spend the night there. The cooking was decidedly better than my own.
I walked through the dining room into the kitchen. My parent's made a killing when they sold their house in California, making nearly three times what they originally purchased it for. They'd bought this old "mansion" as the locals called it with cash, and had subsequently spent five figures remodeling it. It was built in the late 19th century, so there was a lot to do. The dining room really must have been a foyer for receiving guests, but with a little modern decorating, it served its new purpose well. The kitchen was well appointed with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. The cherrywood custom cabinets really finished it off.
I munched on a brownie left on the island as I made my way to the window, peering out to the gravel driveway. Still no cars. I walked back to the living room and checked the phone. There were two missed calls. The little red light was blinking, letting me know there was a message. I hit the play button as I finished my brownie.
Some man I didn't recognize came on, talking about some function being held in a few days. I didn't have any idea what he was talking about, so I clicked the button with "Next" printed on it, and instantly heard my mother's cordial tone.
"Hey honey, don't know if you're still there but I wanted to apologize for being missing. Me and your father got a call from my sister, apparently there was a little fire and she was pretty upset about it. We just came to help move some of the burnt things out, but we're going to be staying the night. I'll call your house, but could you stay over at our place tonight? The dogs get lonely if no one is around all night, so we'd really appreciate it. All right, well, if you hear this, I love you Jonny. See you tomorrow." And then the cold, robotic voice announced that there were no more messages.
"Well shit," I said, rubbing my belly. I was slimming down, but I had a more voracious appetite than ever before. I was looking forward to her cooking.
I was bored, and not quite ready to go to sleep, so I walked out to the garage. There was a little lean-to covered parking spot to one side that had a concrete slab. Sure enough, I found the trailer there. My dad drove a Jeep Wrangler, so there was no chance of anything else being used to haul salt. Inside were dozens of blue bags.
One by one, I moved them inside. It must have taken nearly an hour, but I didn't mind. By the time I fnished I was exhausted, ready to grab whatever they had that was quick to make for dinner and crash out on their couch. They did have satellite T.V., after all.
I went into the kitchen and ended up making some frozen pizza. After I'd eaten I went out onto the back porch, which was original to the house, and chuckled at the creaking noises the wood planks made under my feet. "Still fat enough for that," I said quietly to myself. I let the dogs into the backyard and let them run around. You had to be careful out there, because those dogs had been sprayed several times by skunk. I didn't smell one in the area, so I assumed it was safe.
I sat on the little whicker chair and lit a smoke, enjoying the cool night air. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, and billions of stars cast a steady silver light down across the yard, the dilapidated shed my parents had yet to tear down, and the empty fields beyond their fence. It was a soothing, relaxing feeling. It was solitude, not lonliness.
When I finished my smoke, I went back into the house, calling the dogs as I went. I locked the door behind me out of habit, even though it really wasn't necessary. There was almost no crime in Montpeiler, and my parents lived right next to one of the dozens of cops. In the Bear Lake valley, there are more cops than bystanders.
Inside, I went back to the couch and flipped on the t.v. I was just getting interested in a show on t.v. about a tattoo parlor in Vegas when I felt my eyelids slipping closed...
I woke up and instantly felt ill-at-ease. The low lighting I had left on cast a sickening, virulent light over the large living room. On t.v. there was a show about real life ghost hunters that did nothing for my sense of security. I chided myself for letting my imagination get the best of me and went to turn off the lights, ready for a night of restful sleep. As I layed back down, there was a hollow creak just behind me. The couch I was laying on was pushed up against a wall that was bordered by the stairs on the other side, which creaked horribly whenever anyone walked on them.
"Probly just the dogs," I said to myself. They weren't in the living room, but I knew that wasn't the case. The beagle had bad hips, and the other had separation anxiety. He, in fact, was a rolled up ball of white furr nestled up against the couch. The beagle never went upstairs unless that was where everyone else was. I forced myself to close my eyes, trying to make my breathing normal. The harder I tried, however, the harder my heart beat.
I layed there for over ten minutes before I finally opened my eyes in frustration. Then I screamed. It wasn't the prolonged scream of a girl in a horror movie, though, it was the startled scream of someone who doesn't see the spider hanging by a strand of web just in front of their face in time. Outside there was a dark figure who seemed to be peering in at me intently. After that initial moment, however, I realized it was just the large bushes my parents planted to eventually give them some privacy from that same highway the Jensen's lived on a few miles to the south.
Deciding that sleep wasn't an immediate option, I went back out to the porch for a cigarette. The dogs had no interest in going out. They were both fast asleep.
Outside, I took a deep drag off my smoke. I tried to use the nicotine to calm my nerves. Clouds had rolled in, though. There was no sign of an impending storm, but they blocked out the beautiful pinpoints of light overhead. The moon, now nearly full, was barely visible through a thick screen. It made the vast empty spaces all around my parent's house invisible. The light from the porch extended only so far as the shed, with its door hanging at a sinister angle, and everything beyond was hidden. It gave on the sense that if they screamed, no one would hear.
Then the dogs began barking wildly.
I took my time putting out my smoke. The dogs often would be woken by passing semi's, or even passenger vehicles sometimes. I hadn't heard any semi's go by, so I figured it was the latter. But when I walked inside, it wasn't the front windows they were barking at. It was the foot of the stairs.
"Hey, come on puppies!" I chided, an edge present in my voice. "Knock that off." They both turned to look at me briefly before resuming their defense. "I said, QUIET!" This time I raised my voice. I didn't yell, but I was significantly louder than before. They both obeyed reluctantly.
I went to the foot of the stairs, calling out as loud as I dared, "Hellooooo? Anybody in here? I got a fuckin' golf club down here.." I waited several moments before yelling out again, but with the same result. Finally I resolved to go and check it out. I flipped the light switch to the light at the top of the stairs, but nothing happened. Cursing my luck- the electrical was the next thing to be replaced -I began my ascent. The dogs followed a few feet behind, their faces revealing as much uncertainly as I'm sure mine was.
When I got to the second floor there was an oppressive, eerie feeling. It wasn't silent, a small white fan was blowing at full force, the head revolving from side to side. My parents used it to blow the hot air out. The window was just around the other side of the staircase at the end of the hall. I walked slowly forward, toward the first door. There were only two, so my search wouldn't take long.
I stepped lightly, recalling an old lesson a friend had taught me. Roll your feet, outside in, and walk slowly. Helps you keep quiet if you don't want someone to know where you are. The line of work I'd been involved in included such things, but that was a long time ago when I was just a punk kid. I didn't think I'd remember something like that now. When I got to the first door, I turned the handle gently. When the strike was all the way retracted, I pushed it open all in a rush.
At first, I didn't know what to do. It was so dark I could barely see, but the room was all in disarray. The sheets of the bed were thrown to the floor, the drapes were ripped off of the wall, and the pillows were shredded. A sticky liquid covered the floor and ran from the walls. The stench was epic. When I regained enough sense, I backed out of the room quickly. My legs hit something hard, and I stumbled back. I felt my head connect with the railing that covered the drop onto the stairs, and then everything went black.
When I woke up, streams of light sank into my eyes. It instantly made me aware of how badly my head hurt. I was laying on the couch, with something wrapped around my head. When I began to stir and tried to sit up, I saw my mother come rushing from the other room.
"Stay down!" She said urgently, though she kept her voice quiet. I was very grateful.
"We came home and saw you on the stairs, we were scared to death!" She said, rubbing my forehead like only a mother can. "We called Doctor Macino and he came right over, said he'd be faster than the ambulance. He looked you over and said you were fine, you'd just have one bad headache."
I nodded my assent. This Doctor Macino must know what he was talking about. My head was a volcano blowing its top. Then I remembered what had happened the night before. I quickly related what happened, and my mother laughed. "There's nothing wrong with the guest bedroom, honey. I was just in there not ten minutes ago."
I got defensive, telling her that what I saw was -very- real. She patted my shoulder gently, "I'll go check, just to be sure. Stay right here."
She got up and walked out of the room. I heard her footsteps, unusually heavy, on the staircase. I heard a door open upstairs. Then a car pulled into the driveway- my dad's Jeep -and the back door opened. He came into the living room and looked at me strangely. "What happened to your head!" He said, a humorous tone to his voice. I must have looked ridiculous.
"Mom didn't say anything?" I asked, incredulous.
"Mom?" He sounded doubtful.
I just nodded. How could she have taken care of me without him knowing?
"Jon, you're mom left her sister's in Madison at least a half an hour after I did. She'll be at least that long."
I suddenly wondered who it was I had just been talking to.